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England insist they have suffered one bad result but need to find a response in the second Test to silence the critics who think there's plenty to answer for the world's No. 1 Test team
George Dobell in Dubai
January 24, 2012
Features : Mastering Ajmal - a guide
Preview : Placid pitch could aid England comeback
Features : Akmal the answer for Pakistan
News : Foundations remain solid for England
Matches: England v Pakistan at Abu Dhabi
Series/Tournaments: England tour of United Arab Emirates
Aberration or new era? False dawn or coronation? Undercooked or in decline? The answer to these questions and many more will be revealed over the next few days as Pakistan and England renew rivalries in Abu Dhabi.
We should resist reading too much into one result. But should Pakistan win again, then it will be fair to start drawing conclusions about their revival. And England's enduring problems in Asia.
A glance at the record books suggests that winning at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium will prove tough. The two previous Tests here have both ended in draws and have produced three double centuries. It is interesting to note that, in both instances, Pakistan's captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, won the toss and inserted the opposition. On the first occasion, South Africa amassed 584 but not before they had been 33 for three, while on the second occasion, Sri Lanka were dismissed for 197. If there is any life to be exploited in the pitch, it might well be in the first few hours.
Much of England's success in recent years has come against sides that have imploded: India, Australia and Pakistan come to mind. All were in transition and all capitulated under pressure. Pakistan are unlikely to do that.
Pakistan play, on the whole, solid, sensible cricket. In the first Test, they were successful through bowling straight, playing straight and displaying discipline and patience in all departments. They applied the pressure and England buckled.
That should not be interpreted as faint praise. Success in cricket, as in all facets of life, is so often reliant more on perspiration than inspiration. Genius is wonderful but hard work often prevails. In the likes of Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, Umar Gul and the underrated Abdur Rehman, Pakistan have mature cricketers who know what it takes to prosper at this level. Besides, in Saeed Ajmal and Younis Khan, Pakistan are blessed with a sprinkling of genius.
Ajmal was especially impressive in Dubai. His use of the crease, his variations in pace and his subtle turn in each direction, presented huge problems for England. How they combat him in Abu Dhabi may well prove crucial.
Talk of Pakistan becoming the best team in the world is premature. They have started well but there is a huge distance to travel before that can be said. They have won series against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka to date. Beating England will provide clearer evidence of progress.
|It is worth remembering that Ian Bell averaged over 100 in 2011, Kevin Pietersen scored 175 two Tests ago and Eoin Morgan scored a century in the Test before that.|
Whatever happens over the next few weeks, the need for Pakistan to recruit another new coach has surely receded. As interim, Mohsin Khan has done everything that has been asked of him and more. While he is not the most hands-on of coaches, he has helped create a calm environment in which the players can shine. Further talk of Dav Whatmore appears superfluous.
But make no mistake, this is Misbah's team. He is the one dictating the tactics, setting the tone and ensuring the happy sense of calm that currently pervades the squad. He assumed the captaincy with Pakistan cricket at a crossroads and has, to date, played the hand that fate dealt him masterfully. Coming from behind to beat his Pakistan team in a three-Test series will be desperately tough.
If any team can do it, England can. It is almost four years since they have lost two Tests in a row - against South Africa in 2008 - and, while only ten teams in history have recovered from one-nil down to win a three-Test series, England did so as recently as 2008. At least six, and possibly seven, of the team that played the last Test in that series in New Zealand will represent England in this game. The last four times that England have lost a Test, they have bounced back with a win in their next. But none of those results were against one of the major teams on Asian pitches.
England have one injury concern. Chris Tremlett has reported stiffness in his back and side, and took no part in training on Tuesday. He is most unlikely to play. As a consequence Steven Finn, a proven wicket-taker but liable to leak runs, and Graeme Onions, a wicket-to-wicket bowler who could be considered an ideal horse for this course, will be considered. The spin of Monty Panesar is another option but there is little precedent for England fielding two spinners in a four-man attack. Indeed, the last time they did so was in December 2003, when they drew with Sri Lanka in Kandy.
And there's the rub. England have a tough balancing act to perform. Excluding Bangladesh, they have won just one Test in Asia since March 2001. In that game, against India in Mumbai in 2006, they fielded two spinners.
That might suggest the inclusion of Panesar. But the problem for England is that in that game, they also played three fast bowlers. The presence of Andrew Flintoff as an allrounder allowed them that luxury but, in the absence of Tim Bresnan who might have batted at seven and displaced Eoin Morgan, it is hard to see a way that two spinners can be accommodated. Perhaps, one day, Ben Stokes or Chris Woakes will solve that problem. For now, the loss of Bresnan is enormous. It is highly unlikely that England, after the batting failure of Dubai, will respond by dropping a batsman to fit in another bowler. But it might well be their best method of winning.
That issue is compounded by the concerns about their top-order batting. The openers, with nine of their last 11 partnerships failing to pass 25, are one issue. The lack of form shown by Kevin Pietersen, Morgan and Ian Bell is another. But it is worth remembering that Bell averaged over 100 in 2011, Pietersen scored 175 two Tests ago and Eoin Morgan scored a century in the Test before that. They have had, at present, one bad game. Nothing more.
It is Andrew Strauss' form that is of greatest concern. With just one century in 26 Tests and an average of 23 from the start of the Sri Lanka series, his form cannot be dismissed quite so readily. At the pre-match media conference, Strauss admitted his lack of runs in Dubai was "disappointing" before conceding he was "conscious that it's important as a captain to lead from the front with regards to scoring runs". England will provide every opportunity for Strauss to rediscover his form and there is no immediate danger of a change of personnel. But it could become an issue.
One bad result, as England keep telling us, does not make them a poor side. But two bad results? That is a different matter.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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